Sustainable polymer coating for stainproof fabrics

Household detergents are discharged directly into the environment without treatment, causing threats to the ecosystem. Is it possible to avoid the use of detergents? Today, can the way of washing clothes be revolutionized? Is there a safe and friendly way to replace synthetic detergents?
Published in Sustainability
Sustainable polymer coating for stainproof fabrics

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The Sustainable Development Goals(SDG) call on all nations to act to protect the planet while boosting economic prosperity1. The goals state that eradicating poverty must go hand in hand with a range of strategies, including promoting economic growth, addressing social needs for education, health, social protection and employment opportunities, curbing climate change and protecting the environment. Since 2012,  our  group2 has been working on the research of using amyloid-like protein aggregates for surface modification. After more than ten years of unremitting efforts, amyloid-like protein coatings have been applied in various fields facing sustainable development goals, such as biomedicine, energy catalysis, sewage treatment, and pesticide reduction and efficiency enhancement. The research on water treatment has been plagued by the pollution of traditional detergents, but currently there is no better solution .

Since December 2019, the preparation of a universal antifouling coating is the beginning of Chengyu Fu's graduate career, but the early exploration is always unsatisfactory, such as whether to use ATRP or RAFT for the preparation of polymers? Coupling of proteins and polymers, etc. Many problems plague those who have just stepped into scientific research. It is worth recalling that when he decided to give up the subject, the success of breaking into it always made people feel incredible. He started the characterization similar to traditional antifouling coatings, such as anti-protein, platelet, cell and bacterial adhesion, etc., but the problem that has been bothering? How to break through the current predicament of the existing antifouling coatings and walk out of our own path. When he was still thinking about the role of antifouling coating, one of my inadvertent thoughts reminded him.

In September 2021, just in time for the new school season, our laboratory welcomed 7 new partners. When we were struggling with how to celebrate, someone reminded me that I could eat hot pot. In this way, all the people in our laboratory went to eat hot pot together. It happened that I was wearing white T-shirt at that time, and a lot of chili oil dripped on my T-shirt inadvertently during the meal. After I got home, I washed it with plenty of detergent and water, however, there was still a lot of red chili oil left unwashed, and at this point, I wondered if I could use the amyloid-like protein coating we studied to resist chili oil, resistance to oil contamination through the intrinsic properties of the interface.

However, the conventional feasible solution is to construct a superhydrophobic coating on the surface of clothing. After a lot of research, it is found that although the superhydrophobic coating plays a certain role in resisting oil stains. However,  it also has a great impact on the appearance of the surface of the clothes and the comfort of wearing, and the processing or treatment cannot meet the needs of consumers.  So is there a solution that can easily clean the stains on the surface of the clothes without affecting the wearing experience of the clothes. Reverse thinking reminds me, whether building a superhydrophilic coating on the surface of clothing has the effect of resisting stains? Therefore, after research by Chengyu Fu, it is found that the superhydrophilic coating can well clean the oil stains on the surface of the fabric through simple washing without changing the wearing comfort and experience of the fabric. 

For the first time, our research group proposed the concept of "Coating-At-Will" (CAW), which breaks the traditional washing method and can achieve the effect of removal stains on the surface of the fabric through simple water washing. The core of CAW is to solve the problem of coating peeling off of traditional modified fabrics after repeated washing through coating regeneration anytime and anywhere. The characteristic of this concept is that any target surface can be engineered to embrace underwater antioil staining properties via a rapid one-step aqueous coating with an antifouling hydrophilic biopolymer. Compared with normal detergent-based washing protocols, the present coating methods avoid the use of detergent in the laundry process and increase the cleaning efficiency for fabrics. It’s found that water and energy use can be decreased by at least 40%~50% with reduction of carbon emissions by more than 50% and at least 200 cycles of coating regeneration. According to its high cost-effectiveness ($1620 ton1 of clothes) and low recommended dosage (0.9 g kg1 of clothes), this method holds great commercial potential to transform the present mainstream laundry detergent-based cleaning protocol for fabrics washing. This concept may open a door for developing a series of CAW-derived coating designs that drive the sustainable development of a green modern society with a low carbon footprint.

To sum up, in recent years, smart textiles have been widely studied in the fields of self-cleaning, humidity management, cooling/heat preservation, flexible electronics, rechargeable and monitorable fabrics, etc. But where exactly is the future direction for fabrics?  This is unpredictable after all. But it is worth affirming that no matter how complex the final design of smart fabrics is: it is necessary to return to the fabric itself----wearing comfort and sufficient safety. However, our current scientific research has exceeded the needs of practical applications, and we hope that the research will return to the application itself rather than research for research.

This work was done independently at Shaanxi Normal University, located in Xi'an, China, under the supervision of Prof. Peng Yang and  Dr. Chengyu Fu. For any questions or collaboration, please contact corresponding author Peng Yang ( or first author Chengyu Fu (



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